Tag: justin kirk

The Tribes of Palos Verdes

The Tribes of Palos Verdes (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

This is a story about a father (Justin Kirk) who leaves his family, his tribe, and the rest of his unit (Jennifer Garner, Maika Monroe, Cody Fern) must deal, in his or her own way, with the sudden shift in the tide. The setup is a standard template for family dramas, particularly melodramas, but what is initially intriguing about it is that it takes place in a wealthy community of Palos Verdes, where keeping up appearances is adhered to as it if were a religious cult. Because it has the potential to be so pointed in its critiques of a specific community and others like it, it is all the more disappointing that the material lacks focus.

“The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” based on the novel by Joy Nicholson, is written for the screen by Karen Croner. While I admired its enthusiasm and willingness to introduce every subplot, notice how the story never stops beginning. While numerous subplots may work in novels, particularly those that are heavy in interior monologues so that every character’s complexity is painted on a canvas, this approach can kill the pacing of lean dramas that must get to the point of every important arc in order to prevent the pitfall of boredom. While not completely tedious, the picture’s content is repetitive—which does not help because its melancholy tone is enveloping. The material requires urgency in order for the viewer to care.

Our heroine is Medina (Monroe) whose identity is largely tethered to her twin brother (Fern). Through narration, we learn of her thoughts and yearnings, her dreams of surfing coasts across the globe. Particularly interesting about her is in how she describes her new community (her family recently moved from Michigan) in a somewhat sarcastic, flat tone. Words flow out of her but the emotions behind those words are actually more interesting. Small but curious choices like this that Monroe gives her character makes Medina tolerable rather than being a complete bore. Realize the lack of depth in her journey from novel to screenplay; she merely reacts to the changes that members of her family undergo: the divorce between her parents, the mother’s breakdown, the father’s apathy, and the brother’s drug addiction.

As a result, when a romantic subplot involving Medina and Adrian (Noah Silver) comes along, the aspiring veterinarian steals the spotlight from under our surfer girl. He is the more interesting character because not only is there an effortless warmth to him, he is intelligent and there is a stability to his presence, his spirit—traits that we wish our central protagonist possessed despite the tornado within her household. In other words, in order for us to be fully immersed with the drama, viewers require an anchor. There is none to be found here.

At least the picture is photographed in an interesting way. Despite the setting being an affluent California coastal community, it almost never looks completely sunny. It creates the impression that we are seeing the story unfold through sunglasses—an intriguing choice since it underscores the misery and desperation that its subjects must wrestle against. A point can also be made that these sunglasses are meant to blind the audience from recognizing silver linings of sudden, sad plot developments.

There is one silver lining I was not blind to: Garner in a dramatic film. She has played numerous thankless “mom roles” in comedies and children’s movies that many have forgotten that she has the capability, certainly the nuanced facial expressions, to create a truly moving scene out of tired or cliché situations.

L!fe Happens

L!fe Happens (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Kim (Krysten Ritter) and Deena (Kate Bosworth), best friends and living together, are the kind of young women who take guys, random hook-ups, to their respective rooms and do not think it is awkward having sex at same time. While they are smart enough to search for a condom before engaging in any sort of sexual activity, they find only one in the house. They try to come up with a solution to solve this problem but before Kim realizes it, Deena has snatched the last condom from her fingertips. A year later, it turns out that Kim and her partner conceived a baby boy that night. And yet despite having an infant, Kim is determined to live as if she were still a single gal with no one to look out for.

Based on the screenplay by Kat Coiro and Krysten Ritter, “L!fe Happens” is like a drunk frat boy on the dance floor: all confidence but absolutely no rhythm. The film wishes to be funny, from Kim and Deena’s friendly banters to predictable sitcom moments when they team up just so Kim will finally have a chance to have sex with a man many months after having a kid, but it is a joyless picture. Never mind that it offers no genuine sweetness or important message to say about female friendship. Every other scene, it seems to embody a new state of fugue. These women are caricatures and I was offended that the writers dare to make this embarrassment into a movie. Just because you have the money for it, it does not mean you should. Donate that money where it can do some good for the world.

Other than being put into film, its greatest misstep is its consistent attempt to pass Kim’s irresponsibility for comedy. While a few somewhat amusing things occur as she gallivants across town to let off some steam, it is never really funny because it is difficult not to feel concerned for the well-being of the child. At one point, she has gotten so desperate, she actually leaves her infant with a twelve-year-old neighbor. I questioned if Kim loves her baby, a curiosity that somewhat made me feel rotten. And yet at the same time, I wanted someone to call Social Services.

It is not until more than halfway through the picture that we are allowed to watch Kim and Max play together and interact like a real mother and child. In the beginning, it is always either Kim passing around her baby as one hands a red cup to friends for pre-game alcohol shots prior to clubbing or Max is attached to her back while she goes to her job as a dog walker and assistant to a truly vindictive boss (Kristen Johnston) who, by the way, hates children as much as she loves dogs. There is a lot of negative attitudes about children or having kids and it made me want to yell at the screen.

This would-be comedy’s inappropriate tone is not its only downfall. The supporting characters are as bland and dry as chalk. Laura (Rachel Bilson), the third roommate who also happens to be a virgin, is simply used as decor. She is often shown walking around in skimpy outfits for her odd jobs. It is ironic (or just moronic) that she is utilized as a mere sex object, all of which build up to one scene involving some big realization about women feeling empowered. This supposedly brilliant insight relies on the assumption that the people watching the film do not have a brain.

This is only one example. I can go on about the girls’ romantic prospects, Nicolas (Geoff Stults) and Henri (Justin Kirk), caricatures in that one is a nice, clean-cut guy while the other is a walking sex hound. They neither say nor do something interesting. But I will stop myself from going into it further. This film has wasted enough of my time and energy.

It is possible to make a funny movie about the struggles of being a single parent given that the material has a natural feel to it coupled with a character, or characters, we can root for despite his or her shortcomings. “L!fe Happens,” directed by Kat Coiro, is trashy and astoundingly bad. You know that saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? Well, it does not apply here. I do not know anybody who can take pleasure from watching this.

Angels in America

Angels in America
★★★★ / ★★★★

Since this film runs for six hours, Netflix divided the movie into two discs. I will review the first half and then the second half because I saw the latter a couple of days after I saw the former. I admire the first part of this picture because it’s not afraid to fuse realistic and fantastic elements that share one common goal: to show how the AIDS epidemic, pretty much unknown at the time, impacts those people who have been infected and those they care about. But it actually rises above its main thesis: it also manages to tackle issues like denial of one’s homosexuality, what it means to be a lover and a friend, power struggle in the business world, relationships by means of convenience…

On top of all that, the performances are simply electric, especially Al Pacino, Patrick Wilson, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson. We don’t see much of Streep and Thompson in the first half but whenever they’re on screen, they completely involve the audience because they know how to balance the obvious and the subtle so well. They have a certain elegance that no ordinary actor posesses. As for Pacino, he’s a master of reaching one extreme to the next without ever having to sacrifice his character’s believability. I can argue that he’s one of the most complex characters, out of many, that this film (which is based on a play) has to offer. As Pacino’s protégé, I think this is Wilson’s best performance that I’ve seen. As a closeted Mormon homosexual, he tries so hard to hide who he really is to the point where his emotional pain becomes physical. In most of his scenes, I could feel his sadness, anger, frustration, and (eventual) relief–all at the same time. He has such a poetic face that’s so expressive; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His relationship with his wife, played by Mary-Louise Parker, is complicated, to say the least, because Wilson considers her as more like a friend but she considers him to be a husband. Other noteworthy actors include Justin Kirk as an AIDS patient who is abandoned by his lover, played by Ben Shenkman. Jeffrey Wright is amazing because he speaks the truth without apologies. He plays multiple characters like Streep, Thompson, and Kirk but Wright is the one that I can relate with the most. The idea of escape is crucial ranging from experiencing hallucinations to doing or saying the opposite of what the person actually means to do or say.

As for the second half, the idea of interconnectedness is more prevalent. Since the characters are finally established, they are allowed to interact and play with each other a bit more. This means that strong acting is at the forefront. But what I found most frustrating was the fantastic elements overshadowing reality half of the time. Even though those fantasy scenes do contribute to the overall big picture, they are so cheesy and slow to the point where I found myself checking the time. I was more invested with the reality because the characters that we care about are dealing with things that have something to do with reality like disease and acceptance. Faith is merely the background and focusing on it too much is distracting at best. I thought the way the film ended was handled well; not everything is neatly tied up and the way the actors looked into the camera to convey their last messages was, strangely enough, effective.

This film has such a huge scope but it delivers on more than one level. I found it consistently interesting because it is character-driven and the characters behave like real people. In end, pretty much all the characters have changed in some way. Even though this was released back in 2003, I still consider it to be one of the most important films of the 2000’s.